SANTA ANA — A retired police officer who wanted to counsel sexual assault victims has sued Orange County, saying he had to drop out of a volunteer training program because he believes homosexuality is "sinful and harmful."
Adding potency to the case, Jim Tarvin is being represented by the American Family Assn., an ultraconservative Christian pressure group. Headed by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, the group is known for its boycotts of companies it believes are not promoting "traditional family values."
The group has targeted the Walt Disney Co. because it extended health benefits to the partners of gay employees and because of its involvement with mature-themed films, such as "Pulp Fiction."
AFA Legal Center attorney Brian Fahling said Tarvin, a retired Los Angeles police officer who lives in Orange County, had contacted the group for help.
The suit, filed Tuesday in federal district court, alleges that Tarvin's free speech and other First Amendment rights were violated during a training program last fall, when he was given handouts about homophobia and advised that any counselor who believes being a lesbian is wrong should not work with lesbian assault victims.
Tarvin could not be reached for comment.
Fahling, who is representing Tarvin, said, "I have never seen a more egregious case of a government entity attempting to baptize its citizens in the holy water of government-approved thoughts. . . . Religious belief has been placed directly in the cross-hairs of Orange County's palpable intolerance. . . . The program cannot be permitted to continue."
Georgia Garrett Norris, an attorney who specializes in representing gay and lesbian clients in Orange County, said Tarvin was free to think and speak as he wished, but could not act in a way that would harm others emotionally. "Basically they're saying he has a First Amendment right to hate. He does have a First Amendment right to hate, but he cannot be allowed to act on it."
Rape hotlines, crisis centers and hospital emergency room counseling are not handled by the county but by Community Services Programs, a nonprofit group that receives grant money from the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning. No one from the state office returned phone calls.
Barbara Morison, director of CSP's sexual assault program, said she could not comment on the lawsuit until she had seen it. She said the organization prohibits discrimination against lesbians and gays.
Tarvin attended two training sessions last September, Morison said, the second led by a speaker from the county Human Rights Commission. Afterward, Tarvin called the assistant director of the training program and discussed his concerns, Morison said. Then he stopped coming to the classes.
Rusty Kennedy, the executive director of the commission, said the session focused on the diversity of sexual assault victims.
"Generally speaking, we would be giving a presentation on the different types of race, religion, and yes, sexual orientation of those who might be victims of sexual assault, and talking about the need to be able to set aside your own judgments and disagreements to deal with them sensitively, and support them in their recovery," Kennedy said.
Fahling said the talk and the handouts disturbed his client. "Mr. Tarvin is a Christian, with orthodox Christian beliefs," he said. "He subscribes to the teachings of the Old Testament and the New Testament that treat homosexuality as a sin. . . . But he would certainly be able to provide compassionate counseling to people whose lifestyle he believed was harmful."
Kennedy said he didn't think a belief in Christianity would make someone incapable of dealing with gays or lesbians.